Category Archives: Shakespeare


(Daniel Pollack-Pelzner’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 2/19.)

In 1989, a young professor named Gary Taylor published “Reinventing Shakespeare,” in which he argued that Shakespeare’s unrivalled literary status derives less from the sheer greatness of his plays than from the cultural institutions that have mythologized the Bard, elevating him above equally talented Renaissance playwrights. “Shakespeare was a star, but never the only one in our galaxy,” Taylor wrote. The book was his second major attempt to counter the view of Shakespeare as a singular genius; a few years earlier, he had served as one of two general editors of the Oxford Shakespeare, which credited co-authors for five of Shakespeare’s plays. In “Reinventing Shakespeare,” Taylor wrote that the Oxford Shakespeare “repeatedly shocks its readers, and knows that it will.”

(Read more)

Above, painting of Christopher Marlowe.)


(Gary B. Goldstein’s article appeared in the National Review, 1/21.)

Every scholar is aware of the precision with which Shakespeare limns contemporary knowledge of medicine, science, and the law in nearly every one of his 37 canonical plays. Yet few are aware that the political behavior depicted by Shakespeare is equally accurate, as attested by modern scholars and especially by modern politicians and diplomats — an assessment that adds to the ongoing controversy over the authorship of the Shakespeare canon.
Read more at:


(Robert McCrum’s article appeared in the Observer, 1/12; via Pam Green.)

Deep in the Folger Library, in Washington DC, Heather Wolfe says that studying Shakespeare makes an ideal preparation for the onset of Trump’s America. You can see her point: Shakespeare would have revelled in the mad excesses, the sinister vanities and the pervasive stench of cronyism and corruption surrounding the president-elect as America makes the painful transition from Barack Obama.

Dr Wolfe is a willowy, bright-eyed manuscript scholar, a paleographer specialising in Elizabethan England who in certain moods of candour might put you in mind of Portia or perhaps Cordelia. She’s also a Shakespeare detective who, last year, made the career-defining discovery that is going to transform our understanding of Shakespeare’s biography. In the simplest terms, Wolfe delivered the coup de grace to the wild-eyed army of conspiracy theorists, including Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi, who contest the authenticity, even the existence, of the playwright known to contemporaries as Master Will Shakespeare.

Wolfe is an accidental sleuth. Her scholar’s passion is as much for old manuscripts as for the obscurities surrounding our national poet. Project Dustbunny, for example, one of her initiatives at the Folger Shakespeare Library, has made some extraordinary discoveries based on microscopic fragments of hair and skin accumulated in the crevices and gutters of 17th-century books.

(Read more)

Photo: New York Times


(listen now on BBC Radio 4: )

As we move towards the celebration of Twelfth Night, historian Jerry Brotton looks back at the meaning and power of Shakespearian mischief.

For Shakespeare and his contempories festivals such as Twelfth Night were not just dates on a calendar, but often opportunities for boundaries to be tested and a whole society to implicitly re-examine the structures by which they lived.

Shakespeare’s plays are a clue to this pattern, and Jerry Brotton hears from actors Dame Harriet Walter and Simon Russell Beale; Simon Godwin, director of a new version of Twelfth Night; and Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith.

Featuring unwelcome commentary from Malvolio, written and performed by Tim Crouch.

Producer: Martin Williams.


(Anthony Tommasini’s article appeared The New York Times, 1/1/17.)

During a recent interview, the German soprano Diana Damrau and the Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo tried to describe the chemistry they have together onstage. Reading their comments, I worried that they might be overthinking things. After all, they first worked together only last year, appearing as the lovers in Massenet’s “Manon” at the Metropolitan Opera. The couple thrilled audiences and critics with the smoldering intensity they emitted. So this is a new relationship. In talking about their instinctive connection might they risk making it self-conscious?

Not to fear. On Saturday night for its New Year’s Eve gala, the Met introduced a new production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” starring Mr. Grigolo and Ms. Damrau as Shakespeare’s star-crossed adolescent lovers. In scene after scene, these exciting and charismatic artists disappeared into their characters, emboldening each other to sing with white-hot sensuality and impassioned lyricism.

The production, by the director Bartlett Sher, his seventh for the Met, updates the setting from Renaissance to 18th-century Verona, presenting an essentially traditional staging with some surreal touches that seem a little forced. Still, to whatever degree Mr. Sher shaped the courageous performances of his stars, and this very strong cast, he deserves much credit.

(Read more)


(Julia Franz’s article appeared on PI, 1/1/17.)

What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s star-crossed Juliet famously wanted to know. And for those of us peering skyward, it’s a question for the ages: Where do celestial bodies get their names from?

here are constellations and planets christened after Greek and Roman gods. The craters on Mercury are artists and musicians, like Bach, John Lennon and Disney. And the moons of the planet Uranus — there are, impressively, 27 altogether — have literary ties — 25 of them relate to characters in Shakespeare’s plays. 

For centuries, whoever discovered a celestial body usually had dibs on the naming rights. But when it comes to Uranus’ moons, details are murky about who exactly began doling out Shakespearean monikers.

The first two moons called Titania and Oberon, after the king and queen of the fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” were discovered by William Herschel in 1787. (He was also a famous composer.) But Herschel simply referred to the satellites as “number one” and “number two,” according to Cambridge University historian Michael Hoskin.

“I’ve read a huge amount of what Herschel wrote. And as far as I know, he’d never heard of Shakespeare,” Hoskin says.

(Read more)


(Deborah Swift’s article appeared on English Historical Fiction Writers, 12/18; via Pam Green.)

In Shakespeare’s Day it was more usual to give gifts at New Year, but if you were lucky you might receive one at Christmas. Christmas gifts were known as Christmas Boxes and were usually given by a master to his servants, or an employer to his apprentices or workmen. They were a mark of appreciation for work done over the previous year.

New Year’s gifts were a more equal exchange between friends or relations.

So what might you expect in a Tudor christmas stocking?

Maria Hubert in her book “Christmas in Shakespeare’s England” suggests that Shakespeare might have enjoyed receiving paper as it was very expensive, a new quill pen, or a knife with which to sharpen it.

ell in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” a pedlar is selling:

Lawn as white as driven snow,

Cyprus black as e’er was crow,

Gloves as sweet as damask roses;

Masks for faces and for noses,

Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,

Perfume for a lady’s chamber;

Golden quoifs and stomachers

For my lads to give their dears.”

Elizabeth herself had a liking for candies and sugar fruits. The Sergeant of the Pastry (what a great title!) gave her a christmas ‘pye of quynses and wardyns guilt’. In other words a gilded pie of quince and plums.

(Read more)


(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in the  New York Times, 12/12.)

“I am your own forever.” When these words are uttered in the electrifying new production of “Othello,” which opened on Monday night at the New York Theater Workshop, you feel you’ve heard the most frightening vow ever spoken. It is delivered at the end of the first half of a performance that is drawn in lightning. 

The speaker is a soldier, Iago by name, played by Daniel Craig; the object of his ardent declaration is his general, Othello, portrayed by David Oyelowo. Their faces are as close as clasped hands, foreheads pressed hard together as if in some ungodly mind meld. 

By that moment, you have come to know these men intimately. You understand exactly how they’ve arrived at such a moment of communion and exactly where they’re headed. As presented by two actors at the top of their game, in a marriage made in both heaven and hell, the story of Othello and Iago could not possibly end otherwise than it does.

(Read more)









(Anthony Gockowki’s article appeared in Campus Reform, 12/12.)

Students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a portrait of Shakespeare from a prominent location in the school’s English department after complaining that he did not represent a diverse range of writers.

In fact, the chair of the department confirmed in a statement that the portrait was stripped from the wall by his students as “a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

Additionally, Department Chair Jed Esty explained that the portrait was “delivered” to his office and replaced with a photograph of Audre Lorde, a celebrated African American feminist and author, in a move that was intended to send a message to Esty, whose department agreed to replace the portrait several years ago.

Esty went on to confirm that the portrait of Lorde will remain in Shakespeare’s place until he and his colleagues can reach an agreement on what to do next, announcing the establishment of a “working group” to help monitor the process.

(Read more)


(Mike Eglinton’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 11/22.)

He is one of Asia’s foremost theater directors, and Ong Keng Sen looked to be enjoying his latest challenge when we met in Tokyo in March during rehearsals for “Sandaime Richard,” Japanese dramatist Hideki Noda’s iconoclastic adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”

The Singaporean dramatist was preparing to stage the famously complex play two months later at the annual World Theatre Festival Shizuoka — where, he said, he was intent on pursuing his longstanding focus on what he calls “New Asia” by weaving its multiple realities and hybrid identities through Noda’s “machine-gun” Japanese script.

In practice, he was transforming Noda’s radical reworking of the Bard’s original into a multilingual, cross-cultural and hypermodern play involving Japanese, Singaporean and Indonesian performers trained in different disciplines and traditions.

As Ong — who is also artistic director of the performance company TheatreWorks (Singapore) and director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts — went on to explain, “With this year being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we’re putting him on trial via Noda’s illuminating work he wrote and first performed in 1990.”

(Read more)